Sunday, November 26, 2017

Betty Peterson: Full-time worker for peace and justice

Betty Peterson, 77, is an activist for peace and social justice. During the Persian Gulf War, she kept a peace vigil for 88 days in front of the Halifax Public Library. In 1993, she was an organizer of a weekly demonstration of Women In Black to express solidarity with the raped women of the former Yugoslavia.

She and her husband Gunnar emigrated to Nova Scotia from the United States in 1975. Gunnar died after they had been here one year.

This story, which first appeared in The Women's Almanac in 1994, is in Betty's own words.


We lived in Chicago for 23 years where we both became very much involved in the civil rights movement – in community work, community development, teaching people to read and write. I was active in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, League of Women Voters, War Resisters' League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

When I would pick people up at the airport, I would make it a point to drive them through the ghettoes and my kids would say, why do we always have to drive here? Why don't we drive down one of the beautiful streets?

Well, I wanted people to see how terrible it could be. I think I probably overdid that.

I had been a music teacher when I first graduated; then I was married, then the war came and the kids came and then you stayed at home. Oh gosh, I was very unhappy in the middle-class bedroom community in the south of Chicago – coffee klatches, bridge parties. Those bedroom communities are terrible.

Gunnar always had very exciting, demanding jobs – organizing people, helping people – and I just sat at home, talking baby talk. I had to get out.

So I got involved again. I was holding two almost full-time jobs – one with blacks, heading up a literacy centre, recruiting teachers. Then I worked at teaching English. There were Vietnamese brides coming back, people from Europe still coming over and no one to teach them, so I took the old idea of Frank Laubach, one of my heroes, with the worldwide literacy program – each one, teach one – and began working up my own materials.

Looking back now, I realize how I would call home and tell Gunnar that I wouldn't be able to make it for dinner and he'd have to take over. He was always wonderful but I felt guilty. It was years before I realized that this was the beginning of the women's movement and I didn't even recognize it.

I don't know how things went so wrong in American cities. We brought about a revolution but it didn't go far enough; there weren't enough people committed and we didn't come up with the support services to help people implement change. I don't even want to visit the States any more and that's my native land.

We had such hopes that the ghettoes were going to break down and those great apartment complexes were going to save the world. They did just the opposite.

Well, we fought for civil rights, fought against the Vietnam war and then the Watergate story broke. The system was so corrupt, right through. We wanted out of it.

So we came to Canada and bought a little place in Cape Breton – we used to come up in the summers. After Gunnar died, I decided I was going to live up there and make it on my own. But after a few years, I realized I'm a people person and I had to get active again in the world. So after a series of events and meeting good friends and social activists, I came to Halifax.

My exposure to Voice of Women, to the women's movement and to people who believed in the same things I do just opened everything up to me.

Betty with long-time friend, ally, fellow Quaker, fellow Voice of Women member, Muriel Duckworth.

I also became very active again in the Quakers. Back during the Second World War, I became exposed to the Quakers. They suited me. I got tired of standing up and sitting down, singing hymns, reading scripture and all that. I wanted something that was more challenging and robust and interior too – more meditative. Quakerism fit me like a glove.

Among other things, Quakers are against war and for anti-violence. The main thing is the belief that there's not much point in faith without work. You put into practice what you believe – you don't just go to church on Sunday. So I began working with Canadian Friends Service Committee and then I was asked to serve on a National Native Committee. I'd never worked with Natives. As I got heavily involved, I travelled to other parts of the country and I began to realize that the time for Natives had come – just as the time had come in the States for the civil rights movement.

My first heavy duty involvement was with the Innu. I was asked to go – as a Quaker – to a Native assembly in Sheshatshit, Labrador. And here was the ghetto all over again – people forced to live away from their usual style of life in unbelievably awful conditions. I had never been to the ghettos in the south so this was really my first experience with terribly deprived conditions in a rural setting.

I had never seen real Third World conditions but this was it. Since then, I've been to Labrador six times, always working for the Innu. When I realized for the first time the Innu elders and chiefs were getting together to tell their stories to each other, in their own language, of their experience with low-flying aircraft, it grabbed me and when they said go back and tell people what's going on here, I took that message literally.

People have come to realize that there are no single issues, that they're all connected – peace, social justice, the environment, women's issues – and we realized that there is a different way of going about things. The way Natives go about things is so similar to the way women have come to see things. And the way Natives worship is so close to my interpretation of Quakerism.

Native spirituality came to mean a great deal to me. My first introduction to it was going into Native prisons when, because of my being known as working with Natives, I was invited to go to the native brotherhood meeting in Dorchester Penitentiary. When I saw some of the Native women and men working with prisoners at Dorchester and Renous and Springhill, that was eye-opening for me.

I'm very much interested in how people are working for alternatives to violence. I'm encouraged by Native people talking about taking back their own justice system. The jails are filled with Native people, many of whom can't relate to our system. They don't even have a word for lawyer or for offender. So turning it back to the community and giving them the power is a wonderful thing.

I sometimes joke in a bitter way and say that all my life I've believed in the coming revolution. I remember back in the early '40s hearing Norman Thomas, the great socialist, speak. He said, don't think this war is going to be the end – which we all did. We thought we were going to have a better world when the war was over. He predicted that we would live to see the Third World War – between blacks and whites, or between the poor and the rich. Oh, the shudders and gasps that went through that audience. Well, I'm afraid it's going to come true if we don't continue to work for change.

What can we do, what can we do about it? We have to face the fact that people who have worked so hard for non-violence and peace and love and understanding, we have to admit that we're stymied right now. How do you stop the carnage around the world? It's absolutely overwhelming.

I think we just have to be as loving and caring and supportive to other people around us as we can. I think we have to work at building community – sounds old hat, everybody says it, but I've come to believe that's what we have to do, until we get through this period.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Sexual harassment: it wasn't discovered yesterday

I wrote this column almost 30 years ago for The Daily News in Halifax. It seems to suggest that although sexual harassment was widespread, it wasn't yet talked about openly by women, even with one another. I've written here that I was surprised at the widespread incidence of the problem. I had examples in my own work life and knew what my friends had told me but clearly, I didn't yet know everything there was to know.


June, 1990

Last winter, I wrote about the many instances of sexual harassment that seem to be taking place in the universities – most of them having been reported to me firsthand, many of them by women looking for suggestions about what could be done about it.

I confess, I was surprised at the apparent widespread incidence of this frustrating problem and I had no definitive answers or suggestions. I don't today either, although I've concluded that sexual harassment in the workplace is probably just as endemic as it is in the schools.

Sexual harassment is the only legal term defined by women. It was allegedly first used by women working on a case in Ithaca, N.Y. in 1974. Since then, it's become a term that many women who work outside their homes understand very well; many men still have a problem understanding what falls into the category of sexual harassment. They respond to it in different ways.

“It was just a little harmless flirting,” one defence might be. “If they want equality, they better be prepared for life in the real world,” goes another one. “All she needs is a good you-know-what,” is an old favourite. And that old standby, “C'mon, lighten up. Can't you take a joke?”

But even men who take a pro-feminist stance have a hard time dealing with the feelings aroused by sexual harassment. “Unwanted sexual attention” is not a concept that they can easily relate to. That's part of the reason why women who lay complaints about sexual harassment get so little support.

Another reason is that many women have never had any work experience that doesn't involve this kind of atmosphere – as Gloria Steinem once said (approximately), “For many women, what we call sexual harassment is what they call life.”

Still other women have been socialized to believe that sexual banter aimed at them is flattering – and for that reason, they've been willing to ally themselves with the bantering men against those women who are unwilling to tolerate such behavior. The complainers can't attract men themselves, the line goes, and they resent the fact that other women are getting all the sexual attention.

So what can be done, other than quitting school or quitting your job?

One of the important things to remember is that sexual harassment occurs in situations where the balance of power is uneven. It's rare that a woman in a senior position would be harassed by a male assistant. (Of course, it's also rare that you would have a woman in a senior position and a male assistant, isn't it?)

Very often too, the man in the more powerful position has control over the woman's immediate future – whether he is a professor who can withhold marks or a supervisor who can withhold promotions, pay raises, or could jeopardize job security. This makes it risky for women to raise the issue.

And it happens in hallowed university halls and in federal government offices; therefore, it obviously happens everywhere because those are the two locations where it should be least likely.

But without definitive answers, if you were to ask me what to do about sexual harassment, I would tell you to approach the guilty person and tell him how you feel about it. That usually doesn't help so then I would suggest that you determine how much support you have in your classroom/office/plant. Life becomes a lot harder if you find you're fighting this battle all alone.

Do you belong to a union? Does your union have a sexual harassment policy? Would it work on one if the idea were introduced? If you're not unionized, does your workplace have any guidelines of any sort? Is there someone in the organization (in universities, you can go to a sexual harassment counsellor) whose responsibility it is to deal with such cases? Can you recruit the people who seem to support you and hold regular discussions on topics like “dignity in the workplace”?

No matter how you answer these questions, it's important to keep a written record – times, dates, incidents – of the harassment; do it openly, let the guilty party know it's being done.

And read. Get material (through the Advisory Councils on the Status of Women, for example) that will help you understand that this is not an issue of your lack of sense of humour, will help you see the seriousness of this behaviour and how debilitating it can be to all aspects of your life.

And when you do solve it, share your experiences with other women – one at a time or in groups or through relevant publications. When I'm asked, that's my last piece of advice: just keep chipping away.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Women live cautiously, differently from the men in their lives

Feminism has never been — is not now — easy. That's partly because the myth of the powerful woman is enough to scare certain people (no sex mentioned) half to death. It's also because women ourselves come out of so many different life experiences that until something happens to bring more of us together, we often walk on parallel paths, heading in the same direction but separately rather than together.

There has been a deluge of participants in the "me too" campaign, claims made by women that often have never been shared before.

Feminists — particularly second-wave feminists — are driven by the belief that "until we are all free, none of us is free." I like to expand it to say, "Until we are all safe, none of us is safe."

I have been sharing this credo with women over the last few weeks — women who seem puzzled by the current atmosphere and who wonder why the sexual outrages in the news happen to so many other women but have never happened to them.

But women who believe they are not affected by the recent revelations of sexual harassment and sexual assault live in the same world as the rest of us and they live with the same risks, the same dangers. They live, whether they believe it or not, differently from the men in their lives. In fact, if I were going to get into it, I would dispute their position that they have never been sexually exploited.

Every time they walk out of their way to avoid drawing attention to themselves on the street, or check the backseat of the car before getting in, or they don't get into an elevator with a lone male, demonstrates a life that's lived carefully and cautiously.

Here are some random stories I've never told that many women will probably identify with.

1.When I was a small girl — maybe eight years old — I was over playing with the Presbyterian minister's children. Our family wasn't Presbyterian but my best friend's family was and I went there with her. The minister had two kids so we were four and we had a fine time playing. Toward the end of the afternoon, we started a game of hide and seek. One of the others was "it" and the rest of us dashed off to hide. I tucked myself in behind a big armchair in the far corner of the living room.

Suddenly, the minister himself squeezed in beside me saying, "Shhh. They'll never find us here." He was a big, genial and jovial man. There was not much room back there and he pushed himself very close and put his arm around me. I was not at all comfortable. He pulled me closer and held onto my bare arm.

I want to stress that he didn't touch me inappropriately but the intimacy of his position next to me was not welcome. I was a little afraid and I was glad when the other kids found us.

2. There was an outdoor rink in a yard not very far from where I lived. Kids from all around used to go there to skate. A man who lived in the house next to the rink was always there, helping with the skates, keeping a little fire burning so we could warm our hands. He had been, as far as I know, considered harmless (although I'd heard him described as being "not all there") until one day, my mother told me I was not to go to the rink unless there was an adult I knew present. All the other kids were told that too.

I have no idea what happened but it seemed to have something to do with that man and one of the girls who was just a year younger than I was. In the language of the day, I suppose it was said that "he interfered with her." I don't remember going to the rink much after that. The man was still around and we were told to keep away from him and if he tried to talk to us, we should run.

3. When I was 11 or 12, the father of one of my friends — and a friend of our family! — leaned across the dinner table (this was at his house, with his family) and said to me, looking pointedly at my chest, "Those are a couple of pretty big mosquito bites you have there. You'll have to get someone to rub something on them later." Everyone laughed and it was horrible. I was so humiliated and embarrassed. This is why young girls walk around with their arms crossed in front of their chests. I never told my mother this. She would possibly have killed him but I didn't want to talk or think about it, ever again.

4. I was probably 15 or 16 when I was walking with a group of friends down Cunard St. (in Chatham, NB) from the Vogue Theatre to the MicMac restaurant. It was Friday night and busy and crowded. There were boys on each side of the MicMac steps so they could check out the girls on their way in. There were more boys lining the sidewalk, leaning on the parked cars. There were also a number of air force guys. (There was an air base just outside Chatham and young airmen often came into town on Friday nights.)

As we moved along ignoring the bystanders, one of the air force guys stepped out and blocked my way. I moved sideways, back and forth, trying to avoid him but he moved as I did and also moved in closer to me. I gave him a push and said, "Get out of my way." He laughed and he stepped sideways but at the same time, he reached down and stuck his hand between my legs. He ran his hand up and did what Trump brags about. I got away from him and caught up with my friends and we proceeded into the restaurant.

These are stories from my childhood and my youth. It didn't end there.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Ibiza: stopping 'progress' is no longer an option

One day recently — September 18, to be exact — I saw a small news item that said 47 years ago, to the day, Jimi Hendrix had died.

Under normal circumstances, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have known where I was when I heard that Jimi Hendrix had died. In this case though, I know exactly.

Fred's Bar was in a small town on the Balearic island of Ibiza. In 1970, Ibiza was at the dawn of what was to become a massive tourism industry. We used to go to Fred's for breakfast every morning walking down a remarkably undeveloped street from the building where were staying which wasn't quite finished.

I used to read the International Herald Tribune while I had my tomato and cheese sandwich and a lovely frothy cup of café con leche. Most things were still cheap in Spain but not the Herald Tribune. We couldn't afford to buy it every day but I bought it two or three times a week and I savoured every word even though it was a very business-oriented paper and often quite boring. I was probably never so well-informed on the subject of international business as I was then.

It was there that I read of the death of Jimi Hendrix and I remember it so well. It was on the front page and it must have made quite an impression on me, a small story tucked in among the war, the appointments of big business executives, the ubiquitous news that followed the ups and downs of petro-dollars. The story of the death of a genius musician must have seemed almost out of place.

In the past 47 years, Ibiza has become known as "party island" for young Europeans. I don't think I would recognize it today. We used to walk to the beach every afternoon along a dusty little road, past small family farms where the families were often gathered around a big outdoor table enjoying lunch.

On a busy day, there might be a handful of other people on the beach but just as often, there was no one. An empty beach.

Today, I'm pretty sure most beaches look more like this.

When I started writing this, I thought it was just an interesting little memory anecdote, the reason I remembered where I was was when I heard of the death of Jimi Hendrix. I didn't know it was going to be another look at unsustainable tourism. I've written about that here and here — about Shakespeare's hometown and about Iceland. I make the point again, sadly, because there are so many wonderful places in the world to visit but so many of the places can't take any more.

Spain was early to tourism over-development. Throughout the '60s, the Mediterranean coast of the mainland was mindlessly built up with miles and miles of characterless highrise buildings (I'm looking at you, Benidorm), magnets for sun-seeking vacationers from northern Europe.

There was little regard for heritage or history but it seemed not to matter. The tourists kept coming. The development on the Balearic Islands began with Majorca, then Menorca, then Ibiza. The smallest island, Formentera, is in the earlier stages of development but it's getting there.

Many people still don't take this kind of issue seriously. "You can't stop progress!" they bellow. This is not progress but there's no point arguing with people who hold that view.

But just look at two views of the Old Town of Ibiza:

1970
2017

Not progress.

There were two other headlines/stories that I remember reading in Fred's Bar. Janis Joplin died on October 4. And on October 5, James Cross was kidnapped from his home in Montreal by the FLQ, marking the beginning of the October Crisis.

That was definitely the headline that had the greatest effect on my own life, both there in Spain and far beyond.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A little history of a famous pickle

Around the turn of the last century, a British Army Officer named Thomas Ashburnham, settled in Fredericton, New Brunswick. His father was the 4th Earl of Ashburnham but as Thomas was the fifth of seven sons, there seemed little likelihood of his inheriting the title.

In Fredericton, he used to drink and gamble and at the end of his evening, he would call the phone company to order a horse and carriage to take him home. The night operator who answered most evenings was a local girl, Maria "Rye" Anderson. Rye had a wonderful voice and a pleasant manner and before he knew what had hit him, he had fallen for her. He asked to meet her in person. That happened and in 1903, they got married.

They joined two downtown houses together with a porte-cochère and became the centre of Fredericton social life, entertaining friends and family lavishly. This is what the house looked like in those days:

Painting of Ashburnham House by Fernando Poyatos

Against all odds, all Thomas' older brothers died and Thomas became the 6th Earl of Ashburnham. Rye Anderson, the telephone operator from Fredericton, became Lady Ashburnham.

Lord and Lady Ashburnham moved to England to take over the ancestral home but that didn't work out very well. The family didn't really accept Rye and she was homesick. So they returned to Fredericton and resumed their entertaining ways on Brunswick St.

Unfortunately, in 1924, Lord Ashburnham became ill on a trans-Atlantic journey as he travelled to England to deal with family business. He passed away in May 1924 in London. He is buried in the family vault at Ashburnham Church.

Lady Ashburnham continued to live in their Fredericton home. She died in 1938. The house on Brunswick St. survived for some time. It eventually was divided into apartments — my friend Ann lived there for awhile! — but it was not kept up as it should have been. On Google Street View, it looked like this last year but I've read that it has since been torn down.

Lady Ashburnham's legacy, interestingly enough, is a pickle. She was not domestic herself and didn't do any of the cooking for her delicious dinners but her sister Lucy lived in the household and took care of the kitchen. In Fredericton, the elegant mustard pickles served on Brunswick St. — made by Lucy — became very popular and were known across the city as "Lady Ashburnham's Pickles."

And so they are still known today. I've made these pickles everywhere, including on a Coleman stove on deck when we lived on the boat on the Miramichi, tied up at Loggie's Wharf in Chatham; at the old house in Black River Bridge; in Montreal; of course, in Fredericton. I've even made them on television on a show called Foodessence. They didn't turn out that well. We had to keep restarting them. We had to serve the camera, not the cucumbers. The important thing for television was that they looked good.

I made Lady Ashburnham's Pickles most recently earlier this week.

Those are cucumbers (soaked in salt and water overnight), onions, red and green peppers. They're pretty before you even get started.

There are always variations in a pickle recipe. Most people have adapted it to suit themselves. I stick pretty closely to Lucy's recipe although now that I think about it, Lucy probably didn't use the peppers. I like adding the peppers — they look so nice for one thing.

The one small change I made this year was not planned. I was halfway through the process when I realized I didn't have any yellow mustard seed. I did, however, have brown mustard seed which we bought in the spring for the rhubarb chutney. So brown mustard seed it was and it's fine because the pickling was successful and the pickles are delicious.

I think of Lady Ashburnham — Rye Anderson — whenever I make her pickles. I think of Lucy too and wonder what her life was like, living with her sister who married into British nobility, working in the kitchen, seeing Rye get all the credit for her pickles.

She could never have imagined that more than a hundred years later, her pickles would still be made and enjoyed — and her sister would still be getting all the credit.

Sometimes, life just isn't fair.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

My short introduction to Iceland

In 2008, Iceland suffered a financial catastrophe. It affected everyone, not just the loss of money although that was serious, but there was a terrible sense of betrayal and humiliation that the bankers had treated their own people so badly, stealing money left and right, from everyone. Icelanders felt a collective depression over this.

In 2010, the great volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted.

(This photo was taken by a man named Oliver who lives just below the mountain. When the eruption was imminent, he called the newspaper in Reykjavik and told them it was happening and he was evacuating. The reporter he spoke to said, "Grab a photo on your way out and then get out of there!" Oliver got the photo and then he skedaddled. This photo was on the front page of the Reykjavik newspaper and from there, as the only picture of the eruption. it went all over the world. Oliver did quite well by it.)

The cloud of volcanic ash was thick and within days, it had blanketed Europe and shut down all airlines of flights coming and going. They remained closed for a couple of weeks.

After these two events, happening so close together, the people in Iceland wondered if life had irrevocably changed. The airline shutdown affected much of the world and, in its own mind, Iceland began to feel like an international pariah. They wondered if the people would ever come back.

Well, the people did come back. The numbers of tourists climbed from 595,000 in 2000 to 2.1 million in 2010, before rising to 4.4 million in 2014 — and they continue to rise.

Writing about tourism is not easy. I assume I have no credibility as long as I'm one of the tourists. The last time I wrote about it, we had just visited Shakespeare's hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon, where they get 4.9 million visitors a year. I shared this photo:

Stratford

At some point, I had showed you what my first view of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre looked like:

The Louvre

Can you see her? Way back there at the end of that long room?

(Of course, I often show this one too. I elbowed my way to the front of the room. I'm an "older woman" so I can get away with that.)

Forty years ago, tourism was seen as the clean, environment-friendly alternative to the older polluting industries and a supplement to fishing and farming which were transitioning to large corporate-owned entities that were much less labour intensive. Tourism would provide good jobs and offer a boost to local economies everywhere. Even the smallest towns were seeking ways to entice visitors to their neck of the woods.

And how has that turned out? You don't have to look far to find the evidence that thousands of planes loaded with people being transported around the world and back, is not a sustainable practice. And now, decades after tourism was seen as the solution to economic woes all over, some people are resisting.

First Venice and Barcelona: now anti-tourism marches spread across Europe

In Iceland too:

Iceland becoming 'Disneyland' as US tourists outnumber locals

It's a confusing and contradictory situation for people to be in. I don't begrudge the workers who were able to leave standing in icy water in a fish plant and get a much easier job in a warm hotel for better money. It may not turn out to be a lifetime job however.

Having said that, we tremendously enjoyed our visit to Iceland. We had a cozy apartment in the centre of Reykjavik. That's the view out our window at the top of this page. It was very convenient for shopping at the nearby small supermarket and William enjoyed being in the vicinity of the very active nightlife. Our apartment was well-equipped with dishes and utensils. It had a stove-top and microwave and even a tiny dishwasher — which we used — and a tiny clothes washer which we didn't.

The bathroom was made of smooth rocks.

That's cricket on the TV — a very exciting game, I believe.

Our visit wasn't very long but we managed to do a lot. I'll come back soon to tell you about the city of Reykjavik.

Meanwhile, I've posted two albums of quite spectacular photos on Facebook. You can look at them even if you don't have a Facebook account. Here they are. Just click:

A visit to Reynisfjara black sand beach and basalt columns

Iceland's Sólheimajökull glacier

Friday, August 4, 2017

Our Exhibition: a highlight of every kid's summer

When I was growing up in Chatham, New Brunswick, the Exhibition was the highlight of the summer. It usually fell conveniently right around the end of August, just before Labour Day although I do remember a couple of times when it was held in early September, after school started. How awful it was for us kids to have to sit in hot classrooms, windows wide open, and hear the tempting sounds of the carnival — the music, the carney announcements, the general hubbub. We could hardly wait for the bell to ring so we could get over there.

The Exhibition was divided into three distinct parts: the building, the midway and the barns. Even as young people, we felt some responsibility to survey the exhibits in the building when we first arrived. This was quite mature of us as the building was mostly commercial exhibits, farm machinery, appliances, lots and lots of raffle tickets — which we mostly left for our parents to buy. There were also baked good, pickles and preserves to be judged and there was w wall-full of local art.

The building was a landmark in Chatham, on a hill behind a large grassy expanse that was used for parking. Later, there were paved lanes in between the grassy parking areas but in my earlier memories, there were unpaved tracks and I remember it as being quite haphazard.

This building was built in 1937 and it burned down in a spectacular fire in 1993. It's since been replaced.

After our dutiful turn around the building, downstairs and up, we were free to head out to the midway with clear consciences. In those days, it was always the Bill Lynch Show and like it or not, the Exhibition was judged on how good the midway was that year. Some years, the rides and the sideshows were scant; people complained and threatened to write letters. The problem was, Bill Lynch could supply a certain number of carnivals at the same time but some years, it became clear, the carnival contents were stretched too thin and all you could do was hope that the following year, schedules would be staggered and we'd get our fair share.

You can tell this photo is taken in Chatham because you can see the famous steeple of St. Michael's Basilica in the lower left.

We would usually wait until we were out on the grounds before we started eating although I remember one of the service clubs — the Lions, I think — served fresh buttered corn on the cob, right inside the main entrance. It was so good, it probably didn't occur to us that we were making a healthy choice to begin our feasting — and maybe with all that butter dripping down our chins, it wasn't all that healthy.

I don't know whether it was a widespread habit or just in my circles but we never got our fries from that first truck on the midway, the high truck on the left. It was always said that he charged more and gave fewer fries per serving — taking advantage of his position.

Right across from that fry truck was the Bingo tent which we had no occasion to enter, not being Bingo players. I think there was an age restriction anyway. I suppose it was considered gambling — but weren't all the games? The back wall of that tent was covered with prizes. I remember table lamps — dozens of table lamps. I remember seeing lots of people over the course of an evening carrying those lamps off too. I'm sure it was an appreciated prize.

The gaming booths didn't hold a lot of attraction for me. I remember as a very small girl, Dad giving me a handful of dimes for the duck pond, which I loved. The prizes were always a long slender flexible stick with some kind of cheap-o toy attached to the end. I can still see the keeper of the duck pond reaching up for another of those prizes which would last about a day.

Much later, my boyfriend during my last summer just after high school was a ballplayer with a good arm. I definitely took home a prize stuffed animal every night of Exhibition Week that year. There's teenage status, of course, connected to walking around the midway carrying a big teddy bear and I enjoyed it while it lasted.

When it came to rides, I was strictly a ferris wheel and merry-go-round (after the little kids had been taken home) kind of girl. As a small child, I'd been taken on the tilt-a-whirl and I screamed so loud and disturbingly, the carnie had to stop the ride and let me off. I promptly went around behind the ride and threw up. That was it for me. Ever since, I've avoided rides that go up and down and spin around.

I do remember another ride that I got on. I think it only came to our Exhibition once although I could be wrong. This ride was called The Caterpillar.

It was a small roller coaster. You were fastened in to your seat and the ride started up and did a few revolutions in the open air. A few minutes in, the green covering started to emerge from the centre. It rose straight up, like the convertible cover of a car and then it gradually folded over and covered the seats and you finished your ride in darkness. Quite interesting now that I think about it. I'm guessing that it's not commonly found on midways today.

Back beyond the games and the rides was another phenomenon that has faded away. This is the side-show — including what was commonly called the "freak" show (The Wild Man of Borneo, The Fat/Bearded/Tattooed Lady, The Armless/Legless/Torsoless Man) and those showmen of particular talents who ate swords and fire and cavorted with snakes.

My friends and I, doing our official rounds of the midway, would stand throughout the barker's sales job as he did his level best to entice people into the tent. He would bring out "samples" and use them as part of his selling point. He was loud and seductive and I can still hear that almost-hypnotic persuasion. I was never inside, of course. People in those days didn't routinely carry ID as far as I know but the barker knew who to let in and we kids all knew we weren't going in.

I grew up, interestingly enough, with a rather warm and affectionate memory of the "girlie shows." I think it's because one day, my friends and I were coming back to the midway from the barns and we somehow got in behind the sideshow tents but still inside the midway fence. There were two or three little trailers there and people milling about. There were women on chaise longues getting some sun, chatting with each other, doing their nails. And there were small children running around playing! We suddenly realized that we had stumbled into the living area of the stars of the girlie show and maybe some of the other sideshows as well. They were families and this was the way they were spending the summer.

It seemed so charming and natural that all sense of titillation was lost on me. I suppose that's why they were tucked out of sight back behind the tent stages.

In an unusual twist, one of the memories that comes back to me about the Exhibition is of something that I didn't personally witness. Twice a day — 5:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. — the high-wire aerialist climbed the tower and began his act. (I know my photo is of a female but as I remember the high-wire acts, they were usually male.)

It was always scary, a lot of breath-holding and gasping and occasional exclamations. Those towers were high — often more than 100 feet — and there was always great relief when the aerialist came down.

One day — I'm pretty sure it was the afternoon show — my friends and I had just left the grounds and were out in the area in front of the building. We could hear the sounds that always accompanied the high-wire act and suddenly, there was a sound that was so different, it's impossible for me to describe it properly. It was a scream of fear and horror and disbelief. We didn't know until later what had happened. The aerialist had — working "without a net" as it was always advertised — plunged to the ground. My memory fails me here although I think he was taken to the hospital (which was nearby) and he may have remained alive for a couple of days but I can't say that for sure.

That event haunts me still. I can hardly bear to think about it. I can't imagine how it must feel to someone who was there.


Years later, I was back living in Chatham and I was editor of the newspaper, the Miramichi Press. By then, the Exhibition — while still fun — was an event to be covered in the paper. Our job was to find new stories about the Exhibition — or to find new angles on old stories.

One hot afternoon, I was wandering around the midway and I thought it might be a good idea to see if I could get an interview with the high-wire aerialist/acrobat. I went and knocked on the door of the trailer that was next to the tower. I knocked several times, in fact, and finally, the door was opened a couple of inches. It was a woman and when I told her why I was there, she said no interview, not under any circumstances. She said he was resting. I honestly can't remember the conversation but after a bit of back and forth, she did let me in. I think maybe he heard the conversation and gave his assent.

(I don't remember their names. I'll call them Paul and Marie. Who knows? Maybe those are their names.)

It was nice in the trailer. There was a fan running and it was dim. Paul was sitting at the table. He was wearing a tank top and sweat pants. His upper body was heavily muscled which I guess is not surprising. Marie was heavily made up and wearing what was obviously a wig. They both smoked a lot. They seemed older than I thought they would be.

We chatted. It wasn't so much an interview as it was people sitting around on a hot afternoon, exchanging life stories. I can't remember where they were from or how they got into the high-wire act business — it was probably something as ordinary as people who were working with the carnival gravitating toward the tower and practicing until they knew how to do it. It was a job to them and they didn't seem to find it any more unusual than anyone would find their job. I think they told me they would finish the circuit in Atlantic Canada and then head for Florida where they would spend the winter.

I sensed at one point that they had become quite suggestive and it was clear that they were interested in me as something other than a local reporter. I made a casual reference to my husband and they reacted quite positively to that mention and wondered if I could get him over to join us. I thought maybe it was time for me to go and I made a graceful exit. I thanked them for their time and wished them all the very best.

I came back later to watch the act with Marie. She didn't go up the tower but she had a crucial role on the ground, co-ordinating the act, adjusting the guy-wires, timing his moves to get him down safely. There was no conversation. She was working. The whole experience — watching him go through those dangerous moves after having spent a couple of hours together — was very tense for me. When he was safely on the ground, I waved and slipped away. They disappeared into the trailer.

I wrote my story and it was published later that week.

Several weeks later, a letter arrived, hand-written in bold black ink. It was from Paul. They were on their way back to Florida. He had seen the story and wanted to thank me. He said he usually avoided reporters because, in his experience, they never got it right but he thought I "got it" and he liked my story. He said Marie sent her regards.

I hope they both lived to a ripe old age and retired in their trailer to a nice Florida beach.